Do We Really Need to Keep Talking About Company Culture?

Kristi Birkeland on Sep 23, 2016 3:00:00 AM

Company Culture. It’s the latest business catch phrase you’re probably sick of, and no one can blame you for that. It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s another article about how to build a good one, how to avoid a bad one, how this company rocked it, or how that company completely screwed it up. But here’s the thing. Company culture can literally make or break you as a business. This cannot be emphasized enough. Who you are, how you act and what you believe will eventually come back to you. Or come back to haunt you.

Very few people start a business with bad intent, and yet it’s shocking how many “good” companies end up with poor practices, corrupt leaders and in horrific, cringe-worthy situations.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

Just about every business you can think of began with a great idea and few people dedicated to making it work. During the incubation stage, it’s pretty easy to create an atmosphere of teamwork, camaraderie, and commitment to the company goal. Startup culture is often known for being highly productive, super creative and uber-exciting. When new people and processes start to get added into the mix, it becomes harder to maintain that united passion, sense of purpose, and team spirit. As the business grows, so does the risk of bringing on individuals who aren’t a good cultural fit. It may be hardly noticeable at first, but over time the organization can shift from one person’s big, crazy dream to everyone’s big, crazy nightmare.

Now here’s the good news: Because company culture is created from within, it can be changed.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

It all starts by clearly defining who you are and who you want to be. What do you stand for? What kind of people do you want on your team? What are the values that will drive every action and interaction, from every employee, manager, and staff person, every single day? Once you decide what matters most and how you will live that truth, you can start filling your bus with the right kind of people-- and reinforcing those values, in big and small ways, at every turn.

But getting the right people is only one part of the equation. To properly build and maintain the vision, organizations need to go all in on their values. They’ve got to live and breathe their core beliefs and be completely committed to demonstrating them with everything they say and do.

If you’re looking for an example of this concept in action, check out The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a quick read that illustrates how vitally important company culture is and how to go about finding and hiring ideal team players. According to Lencioni, ideal team players are people who work hard, leave their egos on the shelf, and have a knack for dealing with a variety of personalities and situations. Throughout the book, he gives specific examples of how to determine if current and potential employees have these qualities.

But more importantly, The Ideal Team Player also paints a vivid picture of what can happen when an organization continually commits to its culture. The magic here is that if you emphasize your values in a strong and consistent manner, those who don’t share them will feel uncomfortable in the environment you’ve created. Not only will they not fit in, they will naturally select out, taking their bad behaviors to a company that is more accepting of such things, or who isn’t as clear about how to live their truth.

And then you’ll know you’ve done it right.   

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Topics: Company Culture